Home > The Intimacy Experiment (The Roommate #2)

The Intimacy Experiment (The Roommate #2)
Author: Rosie Danan

Chapter One

 

NAOMI GRANT KNEW that every superhero worth their salt had a secret identity. An alter ego that represented their humanity and kept them tethered to “the real world,” usually by virtue of being unassuming—Bruce Wayne notwithstanding.

   Naomi could relate, though her given name was dusty from disuse. Hannah Sturm, with her easy smiles and trusting eyes, hadn’t made a public appearance in over a decade. And why would she? Naomi Grant was the one people wanted.

   The one musicians invited to launch parties. The woman paparazzi followed to the drugstore. The shiny sexpot that tech moguls attempted to fuck when they wanted to feel edgy.

   Of course, Naomi Grant wasn’t a superhero.

   She was a porn star. Well, former porn star turned co-CEO of an inclusive sex education start-up. Try fitting that on a business card.

   Her superpowers, at least most of the marketable ones, were of the distinctly bedroom variety.

   There wasn’t much use for her lauded talents here at the Los Angeles Convention Center, for a national teaching conference full of harried, unappreciated, and underpaid people in sensible shoes.

   At the registration desk this morning, bent over her blank name tag, a strange urge to write Hannah had flitted across her brain. The impulse so strong, she had to stop her hand from moving, from clumsily following the long-dormant instinct to re-create a signature that no longer belonged to her. It would have been nice to slip on anonymity for a few hours. Hannah could blend in with a crowd, while Naomi, in unforgiving contrast, had been born—or rather made—to stand out.

   Ever since her thirtieth birthday had come and gone last year, she had spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the seams of her identity. Making sure no one found out that the line separating where Naomi Grant ended and Hannah Sturm began had grown wan and thin. Some days the current pulling her toward her past was an undertow that threatened to take her out at the knees.

   It didn’t help that her best friends and business partners, the people she spent the most time with, were normal-adjacent. Engaged. Homeowners.

   Sure, Clara and Josh fucked more than average, but that hadn’t stopped them from sending out a saccharine Christmas card this year. It was still hanging on her fridge in March. Yesterday, she’d caught herself smiling at it when she’d gone to get cream for her coffee. Gross.

   Hannah would have known better than to show up to an all-day teaching convention wearing vegan leather pants and a bra that left her trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. But at least Naomi wasn’t the only one uncomfortable in this lecture hall. Behind his lectern at the front, the poor workshop instructor was sweating bullets.

   “Thank you all for joining me today.” A crack of piercing static cut through the room as he brought his mouth too close to the microphone.

   Naomi winced.

   “Let’s kick off today’s inclusive design workshop with some brief introductions. I’d like to get a sense of what and where you teach so I can tailor my materials to your collective use cases. Let’s stand, shall we?”

   Everyone got to their feet in the slow, grumbly way that stank of collective reluctance. This conference on the future of education had seemed like a good idea last month when Naomi had received yet another rejection on an application for an adjunct professorial position at the local community college. She figured the broad appeal of the programming would provide opportunities for her to network in expanded education circles, as well as the chance to learn new techniques for Shameless, the subscription web platform she ran. It was a stretch that adding conference attendance as a credentials line on her résumé would convince higher ed to take her accomplishments in the analysis of human sexuality and relationship dynamics seriously, but she’d run out of better ideas.

   To her left, a man in his midfifties introduced himself as a medieval literature professor from Green Bay. This wasn’t exactly her usual crowd. She had a feeling her fellow educators weren’t going to warm to her subject matter expertise in quite the same way they did to more benign departments. She braced herself for the impending impact of leers and jeers, but the shift in her normally fluid posture felt like overkill. Hadn’t she faced worse crowds than this?

   Back in her waitressing days, she’d once hosed down a pack of drunk frat boys on the Venice boardwalk.

   The workshop attendees moved through the rows of participants at a rapid clip. Classics. Communications. Molecular biology. Naomi pressed her tongue against the back of her bottom teeth, an old habit from when she’d had it pierced and the sound of stainless steel meeting bone warded off strangers.

   She liked to pretend she found average people boring, with their sitcoms and their mortgage payments and their shame over what made them hot. But the truth was, she knew better than anyone how quickly they could turn hostile, especially in groups as large as this one. Naomi swept her hair off her damp neck, snuffing her flight response before it could flicker fully to life.

   She’d paid good money to be here and had just as much right to stand in this sweaty auditorium as anyone else.

   Ever since she’d finished getting her master’s in social psych last year, she’d missed classrooms. Not just the physical environment, but the energy. The exchange of knowledge. She loved testing hypotheses, which made sense when you considered the fact that her entire adult life was built on the principle of proving other people wrong.

   Finally, every pair of inquisitive eyes in the room turned her way. Her throat went tight. She wished she’d bought a soda on her way in. Something cool and fizzy enough that the bubbles stung her nose. She knew soda was a nutritionist’s nightmare, but that was half of the appeal on the rare occasion she indulged. It was like the way a drag on a cigarette made her feel like she’d been cast in a film noir for a moment, before she remembered she was taking years off her own life with each inhale. There was something about flirting, just a little—the tiniest sip—with her own destruction that appealed to the darkness in her.

   “Hi there.” Naomi’s stage voice came out unbidden, husky and inviting. She shook it off. These people wouldn’t appreciate her Jessica Rabbit impression. “I’m Naomi Grant, and I’m a sex educator.” A few participants bristled at the word sex. One woman’s eyes popped wide like umbrellas. How predictably pedestrian.

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